Category Archives: Baroque era

Scarlatti’s creative process


Four analyses of Domenico Scarlatti’s keyboard sonata K.296 demonstrate the possibilities and problems with analyzing this unusual and fascinating technique of composition—devising sequences of keyboard events while at the instrument, a forerunner of present-day procedures.

This approach diminishes the value of all conventional approaches to Scarlatti’s keyboard works, both of his time and ours, putting them in a new light.

This according to “F.244: 4 Annäherungen an eine Sonate” by Peter Böttinger, an essay included in Musik-Konzepte 48-49: Morton Feldman (Musik-Konzepte 47 [1986] pp. 57–121).

Today is Scarlatti’s 330th birthday! Below, the sonata in question.

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The Heinrich-Schütz-Archiv at the Hochschule für Musik Carl Maria von Weber inaugurated the series Schütz-Dokumente in 2010 with Schriftstücke von Heinrich Schütz. This edition of Schütz’s personal writings gathers the written ephemera of the great composer’s long life.

The volume opens with a school essay on St. Mauritius from around 1600, and continues with libretti, occasional poems in German or Latin, dedications, correspondence, receipts,  personnel lists, and entries in albums and Stammbücher, ending with the title page and dedication for his Schwanengesang (SWV 482–494) from 1671.

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Saul, HWV 53


In 2014 Carus-Verlag issued Saul, HWV 53, a critical edition of Händel’s oratorio that presents for the first time the version conducted by the composer himself.

Saul is one of the most dramatic of Händel’s oratorios, and to a greater extent than almost any other oratorio it reveals with its gripping power its proximity to opera of its era.

The score demands what was at the time Händel’s most varied orchestra; the normal opera orchestra of the day was augmented by trombones, harp, solo organ, glockenspiel, and large kettledrums. The choir functions for the first time as a central participant in dramatic action, while also undertaking commentating functions as in a Greek tragedy.

This new edition makes use for the first time of musical material revealed by the latest Händel research, based as its most important source on the conducting score from which the composer himself directed his performances. Only this research has shown which arias, choruses, recitatives, and instrumental pieces, after he had made numerous corrections in his autograph, Händel chose for his performances, and in what order they were given.

The result has produced, apart from many changes of details (e.g. autograph instructions concerning the use of the organ), an uncommon ordering of individual pieces, and passages with altered notes.

Below, a dramatic excerpt.

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The Boydell composer compendium series

Rameau compendium

Boydell & Brewer launched The Boydell composer compendium series in 2014 with The Rameau compendium by Graham Sadler.

The series aims to present up-to-date reference works on major composers that can provide instant information and connect users with further reading. As leading authorities on the composers in question, the authors are encouraged both to present available information and, where appropriate, to introduce new facts and arguments and to illuminate the various discourses on the subject.

Each volume includes an exhaustive cross-referenced dictionary of relevant people, places, institutions, compositions, terminology, genres, and events. A comprehensive bibliography is also included, as are numerous musical examples and illustrations.

Below, John Eliot Gardiner conducts a concert of Rameau’s works.

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Natale Monferrato: Complete Masses

Natale Monferrato

Natale Monferrato was maestro di cappella at the Basilica Cattedrale Patriarcale Metropolitana Primaziale di San Marco Evangelista in Venice from 1676 to 1685.

An obscure figure of early Baroque history, Monferrato (who trained under Claudio Monteverdi, Giovanni Rovetta, and Francesco Cavalli, among others) was, in fact, responsible for restoring discipline and musical standards in a chapel that had long succumbed to secular decay.

The type of Mass composition most commonly sung at San Marco was the a cappella form, as distinct from the messa concertata. Musicologists have long relied on a small corpus of music—notably containing two works by Monteverdi—for appraising the a cappella style at the 17th-century chapel.

In 2014 A-R Editions issued Natale Monferrato: Complete Masses, a definitive edition of Monferrato’s Masses. This edition—a total of eight settings from the composer’s opuses 13 and 19—provides a major boost to musical scholarship by presenting the most substantial testimony to the cathedral’s daily ritual during the Baroque era.

Below, Monferrato’s setting of Lauda Jerusalem.

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Sacra corona (Venice, 1656)

Sacra corona

Sacra corona (Venice, 1656) (Middleton: A-R Editions, 2015) is a complete edition of the anthology Sacra corona (Venice: Magni, 1656), comprising solo motets for two and three voices with continuo by some of the foremost Venetian composers of the period and by four composers who worked in the papally controlled states on the Adriatic coast.

A detailed study of contemporary documents reveals possible reasons for this somewhat idiosyncratic choice of composers, finding them in the family history of the publisher, Bartolomeo Magni (descended from a dynasty of Ravennese musicians), and in contemporary political relations between Venice and the Papacy, the former being dependent on the latter for funding in its ongoing military campaign against the Turks.

Above, the cover of the 1656 anthology; below, O bone Jesu by Francesco Cavalli, one of the works preserved in it.

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Bach at the table

Bach food

The holdings of the Bachhaus in Eisenach include a polished goblet that was presented to J.S. Bach around 1735; the word VIVAT inscribed on it was meant as an invitation to enjoy a glass of wine.

Sources including letters, pay slips, stipends, and the 1750 catalog of his estate suggest that Bach’s life was sometimes cheerfully informal.  The table of this choral street-singer, organist, cantor, court musician, and municipal music director—whose salary as an employee was, throughout his life, paid not only in money but also in kind (grain, fish, beer, wine, wood)—was abundantly set for his large family and for the many welcome guests, and his comfortable standard of living was provided for on a corresponding scale.

This according to Zu Tisch bei Johann Sebastian Bach: Einnahmen und “Consumtionen” einer Musikerfamilie by Walter Salmen (Hildesheim: Georg Olms, 2009).

Below, Bach’s jovial Mer hahn en neue Oberkeet (“Bauernkantate”), BWV #212, which includes the encouraging words “Wave if you’re thirsty!”

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A catalogue of Mass, Office, and Holy Week music printed in Italy, 1516–1770

Frescobaldi print

A catalogue of Mass, Office, and Holy Week music printed in Italy, 1516–1770 focuses on the vast repertoire (comprising approximately 2000 sources) of music for the Office, Holy Week, and the Mass published in Italy from 1516 to the cessation of the printing of such repertoire in the latter part of the 18th century. Even by the end of the first quarter of the Settecento, Italian prints of sacred music were quite rare.

Compiled by Jeffrey G. Kurtzman and Anne Schnoebelen for the JSCM Instrumenta series, this free online resource includes a wide range of indices, from academic references to publishers.

Above, Girolamo Frescobaldi’s Secondo libro, an edition covered in detail in the catalogue (click to enlarge); below, his Ave Maris stella, one of the works preserved in this edition.

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English keyboard music c.1600–1625

English keyboard music

English keyboard music c.1600–1625, edited by Alan Brown (London: Stainer & Bell, 2014), presents works by anonymous and lesser-known composers of the period, drawn from 22 manuscripts that mostly also transmit music by William Byrd and other noted virginalists.

The edition includes the complete keyboard works of Nicholas Carleton, the surviving 20 “Miserere” canons by Thomas Woodson, and the anonymous Pretty ways for young beginners to look on, along with preludes, plainsong settings, voluntaries, dances, and character pieces.

Below, Carleton’s A verse for two to play.

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Bach or the Devil


During his life, Bach was primarily known as a dazzling organist with virtuoso improvising abilities. Not surprisingly, his prowess gave rise to a number of urban legends.

One such legend had him traveling incognito, dressed as a village schoolmaster, going from church to church to try out the organs—prompting one local organist to cry out, “I don’t know who’s playing, but it’s either Bach or the Devil!”

This according to “Tod und Teufel” by Frieder Reininghaus, an essay included in Bach-ABC (Sinzig: Studio-Verlag, 2007, pp. 91–93).

Today is Bach’s 330th birthday! Below, the tocatta and fugue in D minor, BWV 565, which always seems to surface around Halloween.

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